Teddy bears are among the most cuddled and beloved of childhood companions, but they are relatively new in the world of toys. The story of their U.S. origins is probably the most famous. When President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt failed to make a kill on a hunting trip in November of 1902, his companions caught a bear cub and tied it to a tree to give him an easy target. The President would not fire. Instead, he declared, "Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal."

Washington Post artist Clifford K. Berryman immortalized the scene when he drew it in a political cartoon for the paper called "Drawing the Line in Mississippi." That month, Brooklyn store owners Morris and Rose Michtom made a stuffed bear doll, called "Teddy's Bear," and placed it in their display window with the cartoon. The bear was a sensation, prompting the Michtoms to found the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Meanwhile, around the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff created a soft toy bear for his aunt, Margarete Steiff, who owned a big toy factory. Steiff's idea for the bear, called a Bar 55PB, came from his drawings of the animals at the Stuttgart Zoo. An American wholesaler, George Borgfeldt, discovered it at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903, and promptly ordered 3,000 of them. By World War I, Steiff had sold millions of these toys in the United States, Germany, and England.

Steiff bears made between 1903 and 1905 are the most-sought after. They feature hump backs, long snouts, long arms with curved paws, and big tapered feet—after 1905, the trademark Steiff button was sewn into their ears. The earliest Ideal teddy bears, which are also highly valued, look very different; they have triangular faces, chubby bodies, and long straight limbs.

The heyday of teddy bears was between 1906 and 1908, during Roosevelt's second term. Along with regular bears, manufacturers produced novelty models, like the 1907 Laughing Roosevelt Bear by the Columbia Teddy Bear Company, which featured the president's large teeth. The 1917 Patriotic Bear, made during World War I, was red, white, and blue and had electric light bulbs for eyes.

Before World War II, many new teddy-bear makers got their start. In Germany, Bing made mechanical bears while Schuco focused on miniature bears. Hermann bears from this period are also highly regarded. In Great Britain, Dean's started making bear toys in 1915, while Merrythought got into the business in 1930. J.K. Farnell made the original "Winnie the Pooh" bought for Christopher Robin in 1921.

Other early-century teddy-bear makers include Harwin & Co., Chad Valley, William J. Terry and Chiltern in England; Knickerbocker, Bruin, Aetna, and Gund in the United States; and...

After the war, the U.S. market was overwhelmed with cheap plush toys from Asian factories. By the end of the '60s, the traditional teddy bear seemed to be on the verge of extinction. But when teddy bear collector Peter Bull published his 1969 book on his obsession, interest in old-fashioned bears surged. Christie's hosted the first auction devoted to antique and vintage teddy bears in 1985, the same year the Teddy Bear Artists Guild was founded in the United States.

Thanks to the interest in old-fashioned teddy bears, there are a lot of deliberate fakes on the market. They often incorporate elements of the old teddy bears, including long arms, back humps, and straw stuffing, but in the wrong combinations, and appear suspiciously dirty. Knowing the features of antique bears can help you identify the fakes.

For example, vintage teddy bears were most often made out of wool mohair. Silk plush bears were introduced around 1930, but cotton plush wasn't used until after World War II and synthetics didn’t appear until the 1950s. The earliest bears have boot-button eyes. In the 1920s, glass eyes became the most common, while in the 1950s eyes were made of plastic. Each manufacturer had its own unique nose stitching—early noses were stitched out of woven silk.

The oldest antique teddy bears are hard-stuffed with excelsior, also known as wood wool. If a vintage bear is lightweight, it was probably stuffed with fibers from the kapok tree. Bears filled with foam are newer. As for the paws, the ones on vintage bears had pads made of felt or cotton, although the cotton would have worn out and been replaced by now. Velvet and rexine (a fake leather) were also used for paw pads starting in the late 1930s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]



This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Gorgeous Antique Vintage Teddy Bear With Big Glass Eyes - Great Condition!Vintage Old Chiltern Hugmee Teddy Bear Golden Mohair Glass Eyes 20" C1940 -50'sRare Antique Farnell Wwi Soldier Mascot Miniature Teddy Bear, 3 1/2"27" Terry John Woods Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear NeedhamVintage Old Chiltern Ting A Ling Teddy Bear. Golden Mohair. Glass Eyes 15" C1950Lori Baker Artist Rabbit And Antique Toy Rabbit Teddy Bear's FriendsVintage Old Chiltern Hugmee Teddy Bear Golden Mohair Glass Eyes 14" C1940 -50'sLovely Steiff 18" Doll By Gotz Steiffe Skirt W Teddy Bear~steiff Button In Ear!Vintage Mohair Teddy Bear With Music Box And Swivel HeadSuper 13" Blonde Antique Steiff Teddy Bear Circa 1907 Antique Steiff Miniature Mohair Teddy Bear 3" W/tag & ButtonAntique Steiff? Miniature Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear With Glass? EyesAntique Golden Mohair Sorry Old Teddy Bear Glass Eyes Needs Paw Pad Restoration Antique Teddy Bear And Antique Like Teddy Bear Muff For A DollAntique Teddy Bear Artist Teddy Bear By Mary GeorgeAntique Teddy Bear And Antique Monkey Puppet By Character Antique Jointed White Mohair Teddy Bear Good Ole Guy For Sure Large 18"Original Mini Steiff Mohair Teddy Bear 0201/11 - 3" Tall - W/buttonMadame Alexander 8" Be My Teddy Bear 49860 Elvis In Original Box Character DollVtg.stuffed Mohair?teddy Bear Glass Eye 20" Articulated/jointed Golden Brown... Limited Edition 2014 Danbury Mint Steiff Fully Jointed Mohair Teddy BearAnnette Rauch Of Spielzeugdesign Ruby Le Teddy Bear Signed Mint With TagsAntique Vtg Teddy Bear Glass Eye Large 21" Jointed Rare Teddy Roosevelt Composition Teddy Bear Political Item Firepit Find Dug NrAdorable Vintage Pink Rabbit Teddy Bear 13'' Tall - 399 S63Annette Rauch Of Spielzeugdesign Emma Le Teddy Bear Signed MintAntique Teddy BearSteiff Teddy Bear Original, Button In Ear 0202/41Old Vintage Antique Well Loved Chad Valley Straw Filled Tatty Teddy Bear Vintage 22" Pixie Toys Teddy BearVtg Antique Cloth Teddy Bear With Pants And Boots Early 1900s 10"Le Artist Robert Raikes Peter Pan's Wendy John & Michael Wood Mohair Teddy BearSteiff Bear Winnie The Pooh #680298Steiff Bear One In A Million #666933Vintage Merrythought Teddy Bear Pyjama / Nightdress Case Ex CondSteiff Bear Little Max # 6682891998 Steiff Qvc Roosevelt Teddy Bear Ean 665462; Button, Tag & CertificateCabbage Patch Kids Clothing One Piece Jumper With Teddy Bear Yellow And WhiteVintage 1930's Teddy Bear Doll Celluloid Face Soft Fur Body Mink Teddy Bear TwinsSteiff 9" Mohair Teddy Bear Ean 0201/26, Jointed With Tag & Button, West GermanyHermann Captain Smith Teddy Bear Ltd Ed 128 /500 Pieces With Ship 15"Vintage Schuco 4 Inch Jointed Teddy Bear Mohair Over MetalAntique Handsome Brown Mohair Teddy Bear Glass Eyes Excelsior Stuffed A Charmer Steiff Bear Appolonia 667633Steiff Bear Zoe # 668296Antique Mohair Knickerbocker Teddy Bear W/label From 1925 - Fully Jointed 16"Pauline Bjonness Jacobsen Jointed 6.5" Teddy Bear - MintAntique Jointed 4" Mohair Miniature Teddy BearVintage Miniature Teddy Bear Made In Western Germany 3 1/2 Inches HighVermont Teddy Bear SilverVintage Steiff Teddy Bear 0201/41 Blond Red Bow 16" Ear Button Tag MohairHermann Limited Edition Teddy Bear The New Europe 2004 Musical Madame Alexander Doll Goldilocks-25965 8 Inch Doll With Cute Stuffed Teddy BearTeddy Bear Completely Sewn For You Made Of German Schulte MohairKlein Archie Steiff Bear Tags Plush 1983 14in. 0140/38 Wardrobe Growler Antique Mohair Teddy Bear Chocolate Brown Fully Jointed 16" - Please Help Me!Steiff Original Teddy Bear MohairNabco 1990 Alice Vanderbear Bride Remembearances A Wedding Collection Teddy Bear